Friday, June 17, 2011

There's a Hole in My Bucket, Dear Liza

There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
My, oh my! What a wonderfully wet week we've had children! Not only did we have four Board members running up the white flag on the superintendent search and the "leakiness" of their peers, we got a view of the fountain of youth that is the next SPLOST IV scope.

The drama of the reveal was breathtaking! What would the fourth down payment on our fantasy trip to a renewed capital plant look like? A lot like the last three is the answer. True, there are a few lucky communities with replacement, neighborhood-scale schools and there's the laundry list of other items that seemed to touch every school in the district.

Wow! Not ...

Besides Nancy Jester's brave 'no' vote, the only part of the entire proceeding that stuck in my head was a pesky image of a bucket full of holes like the one above. The "capital needs" were described as "$3 billion" and the SPLOST IV revenue target of $475 million. I thought, "Wow, that leaves $2.5 billion in unmet needs."

Then I remembered what we had been told by DCSS in past years whenever I asked where Cross Keys' auditorium was in plan: "Kim, we have over $2 billion in needs and only $500 million in SPLOST dollars - no one is getting everything they need and we are spreading it thin." Putting aside the fact that many are, in fact, getting "everything they need," I have been surprised that no one seems to be noticing the SPLOST death spiral we are in as taxpayers.

There are a lot of holes in our capital bucket and the money is running out those holes faster than we can fix them apparently. What are the holes? Too many schools and sites to maintain - way too many properties.

Let me over-simplify this so I can understand it ...

Five or six years ago we had $2 billion in needs. In the ensuing five years, we spent $500 million against this need. This should leave somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion in need, right? Not according to DCSS this week.

The current line is that we now have $3 billion in identified needs and $475 million to spend in SPLOST IV. What?! Our need more than doubled from $1.5 billion? What's going to happen in SPLOST V? We'll spend $500 million in SPLOST IV against the $3 billion in need leaving $2.5 billion which, if the next period is like the last period, will double to $5 billion in need??

Is our leadership blind or irresponsible or both? That this kind of dynamic can be allowed to persist without addressing the fundamental issue is a massive failure of fiduciary responsibility.

SPLOST has become for taxpayers like one of my favorite movies, "Ground Hog Day," where the protagonist is trapped in the same day over and over again. He says, "Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." That is how I feel about the current "2020 Vision" and SPLOST IV - there is no tomorrow in these plans today.

When will the madness stop? Unlike for Bill Murray's character, I am afraid not soon for DeKalb taxpayers, not soon ...


fedupindcss said...

Kim, you've said it before, and you are right: we need bigger schools. Having small neighborhood schools was realistic back in a time when schools were expected to do much less, in large classes, without any technology to pay for. Dekalb needs to shutter schools and expand others. There is no other way.

themommy said...

All the new elementary schools will be 900+ student schools.

The problem is that the elementary schools have gotten in such bad shape that we can't focus on the high schools where consolidation would be beneficial.

This system is paying for the total lack of vision with previous SPLOSTs as well as mismanagement.

I see very little hope when it comes to facilities.

Cerebration said...

Wow. Great post Kim!

What is the history here? To read a bit about it, click the post below for the open letter to the board written by our resident SPLOST II expert, Faye Andresen.

An open letter to board members (Re: SPLOST)

(Follow the additional links within that post for even more info.)

And then if you care to dig deeper, click below to download the SPLOST II Letter and Audit. It's quite interesting.

SPLOST II Letter and Audit

Or go here to download the state audit -

June, 2006 State Audit

Open+Transparent said...

There aren't $3 billion in needs. Not even close.

It's an old political trick to force voters to vote yes for more taxes.

Even though only a percentage of households in the county have school-age children, this is a way to guilt the other 70-80% of households into voting for a tax increase.

Are there many, many needs? Of course. Is there over a billion in needs? Of course.

Should we trust Tom Bowen, this BOE, the leftover Crawford Lewis upper administration, and the Sam Moss staff to spend half a billion dollars? To properly maintain and operate new and renovated facilities? Heck no.

Kim Gokce said...

themommy: "I see very little hope when it comes to facilities."

This is a big, big problem. No, school buildings do not make education happen - people do. That said, my assessment is that what is rotten in DeKalb can only be remedied if we aggressively consolidate.

Fewer, higher capacity buildings mean: 1) larger attendance areas that can meet the ebb and flow of population shifts, 2) Lower operational overhead (fewer headcount at Sam Moss need fewer managers), 3) Lower central office administration (fewer area supers, assistant supers, etc), 4) Greater "equity" for students in terms of facilities and programming (fewer tiny, one-off schools)

Honestly folks, what stands between us and this more streamlined, cost-effective, and equitable scale? I can only see two major obstacles and both are political: 1) Parent groups who "own" and want to protect neighborhoods schools and have everyone else pay for them, 2) Corrupt employees who see a DCSS job as a right and not a privilege or duty to serve the public interest.

Any other theories?

Kim Gokce said...

Oh! One more complaint (such a whiner!) ...

My proposed focus and goals would also give the BoE little excuse to continue avoiding to discuss education. I have only been watching for about four years or so but my judgement is that the BoE and the Superintendent's office spend FAR TOO MUCH time planning, debating, promoting, re-planning, gathering feedback, re-planning, debating, negotiating, funding, defending and persecuting legal cases, and on and on and on relative to facilities.

What would happen if the tens of thousands of hours wasted, yes I say, "wasted," on managing the corpse of DeKalb school plant was spent instead on education, on teachers, on classroom materials, on lab equipment, on tutoring, on public outreach, on private partnerships for instruction, on ... the kids!

For Pete's sake! Can we please shutter the excess plant and get on with the mission of public education? Yep, I'm crazy, unhinged, and definitely unreasonable to say these things.

Kim Gokce said...

Oh! One more complaint! Why our we, the public, accepting the "stay the course" plan that has us on this disastrous path???

Look at the hundreds of millions of dollars we have invested in new high schools for Tucker, Arabia, etc. - all on with very modest capacities and zero benefit to enrolment problems (over- and under-). I learned Thursday that the build at Chamblee will be for 1600 capacity for instruction and 2000 capacity for core service (cafeteria/library, etc.).

So, here we go again ... $68 million for a school plant that will not provide scale for consolidation or enrolment "balancing" as populations ebb and flow. We have officially lost our collective minds. We have no more room to complain - we are complicit in the financial ruin of DeKalb public education.

What recourse do taxpayers have? They are voting with their feet. They are moving into enclaves like Dunwoody; they are moving out-of-district to Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cobb, etc.; they are fuelling one of, if not the, largest metropolitan private school network.

It must stop, it must! But it isn't ...

Cerebration said...

Back in this blog somewhere, we had a discussion (during redistricting I believe) as to how much money can be saved by consolidating all the TINY schools we have. Each of these TINY schools (300 or fewer) has its own principal, AP, guidance staff, cafeteria and janitorial staff, security, etc...) What a waste! These are the dollars that should be going to the classroom. These are the dollars that should be going to support teachers to help the students improve their areas of weakness and learn better!

For example --

Couldn't we consolidate DSAs less than 300 students into a regular high school? The plan on the table is to create a k-12 School of the Arts. Is that what people want? How about k-8 and then on to high school? I would think that DSA could easily function as a program within a regular high school - one that has space as well as a nice auditorium -- say, McNair!

Aren't the Gateway to College and the Early College Academy the same thing? Why do these function as two completely separate programs each with their own staff?

Can't we reconsolidate Wadsworth back inside a regular school? Really - the best job in the county has to be an AP at Wadsworth -- with only 160 kids and a full staff and complement of services.

Is DeKalb Alternative something different from Elizabeth Andrews? Can these programs function under the same name with one set of administrators and staff?

And along that line, is DeKalb Alternative Night School also a separate school with a separate staff?

How about Destiny Academy? Isn't it the same thing but different? They only have about 100 students - about the same as the Early College and the Gateway - seems that all three could share a building and administration! They will still only total about 300 students!

We can move several Pre-K programs out of the school house and merge them into Pre-K Academies - using some of our decommissioned buildings (Heritage would be a good one). That way, these Pre-K students don't count against us for using space in a building but not bringing state FTE dollars to that building.

Same for Coralwood. If it only served as a diagnostic center/pre-K/therapy center, then it would not count as a 'school' and would not count against us in the total FTE count to the state. Having a school building with a low FTE count costs regular schools in the end. There's only so much FTE money to spread around.

Consolidate and consolidate some more! Every time the board approves a charter or theme school, those students LEAVE a regular school. Those regular schools must then consolidate. We aren't doing nearly enough consolidating - nor nearly as fast as we need.

And finally - SELL OFF properties that we just don't need. We own all kinds of strange pieces of property that could never serve as a school or any other kind of resource. (Go to the tax commissioner's website and search for DeKalb County Board of Education to view the properties owned by DCSS.) Unload them.

Anonymous said...

T-Mobile has 12 (twelve) towers in mind on DCSS schools. I had thought that there was only one.

Reported on last nights WSB TV 11PM news.

Dekalbparent said...

I haven't posted lately because I have been at a loss as to what to do (is there anything to be done, or is DCSS too far gone?)

What would happen if someone on the BOE or in administration just said "Here's what needs to be done folks - cut the half-way measures we have outlined in our 20 year plan and just figure out the most efficient and fastest way to get to the size of schools we need that contain all the amenities th students and teachers must have to be an exemplary school system."

In other words, determine what is needed, set that as the end point and then plan what we need to get there in the fastest way with the least disruption to the schools.

This would include sizing schools for optimal performance, consolidating similar programs, eliminating duplicate programs, and maximizing personnel who have face-to-face contact with the children.

What would happen?

Cerebration said...

Good ideas DeKalb Parent - I wonder if you could get them heard? This is why I am against another SPLOST right now -- I don't see a "vision" - I just see a hodge-podge of projects with no goal or overall plan...

Also - dundevil - correctomundo!

Below is the text from the agenda item on the cell towers --

Requested Action
It is requested that the Board of Education approve the contract proposal submitted by T-Mobile for placement of Wireless Towers at the following locations: Briarlake ES, Flat Rock ES, Brockett ES, Jolly ES, Lakeside HS, Margaret Harris Center, Martin Luther King, Jr. HS, Meadowview ES, Medlock ES, Narvie J. Harris ES, Princeton ES and Smoke Rise ES.

I have to wonder -- the big "carrot" for communities seems to be that the PTAs of these schools would each get a $25,000 donation from T-Mobile for their vote - ahem - trouble. So, it begs the question - since Medlock has closed, where does their $25k go? And does Margaret Harris have a PTA? And do we need a tower at BOTH Lakeside AND Briarlake? Won't these two towers be about a few hundred feet apart?

DinoMom said...

I honestly think that DCSS has gone so far down the bunny trail that it can't be fixed from the inside. It is not going to be fixed with this BOE, this group of administrators, this current leadership. They all have too much to lose to make the hard choices that are needed to turn this ship around. I'm afraid that things are going to have to get so bad (like the imminent threat of losing accreditation) that the state will have to step in and take over in order to set DCSS on the right course again. The incremental changes that we as concerned, organized groups of citizens may be able to get implemented are not going to be nearly enough to reverse this downward spiral that DCSS is on.

Dekalbparent said...

I'm with DinoMom - there is nobody associated with DCSS that would make the proposal I described; it would cost them their job, and they'd be gone instantly.

As to your questions about small schools, Cere, here's what I found:

Gateway to College (555 N Indian Creek Dr) and Early College Academy (1701Mountain Industrial) are similar in that they both have students earning high school and college credit simultaneously. Both have most of their classes at GPC Clarkston. DECA is for kids in grades 9-12 who will be the first in their families to attend college and would benefit from small classes [wouldn't all the kids]. Gateway is for kids age 16-20 who haven't been successful in their regular schools, and who would benefit from small classes. I am not sure what the difference is except for the ages and that you have to have attended high school with little success to go to Gateway. The street addresses are not relevant, as I see it, since they both spend their time in Clarkston.

Elizabeth Andrews High School(1701 Mtn Industrial)serves students who want to graduate quickly or make up courses for graduation, also students who have dropped out and want to come back but have jobs and/or are married.

Destiny Academy of Excellence, (3595 Line Crest Rd) is for at-risk students who are not currently succeeding in their conventional high school, have poor attendance or might drop out. Small classes with supportive staff.

Elizabeth Andrews, Gateway, Destiny and DECA seem to overlap in purpose. As a matter of fact, it is hard for me to see the distinction between Destiny and Gateway at all, except Destiny kids can't earn college credits. There are small distinction, but is that a reason for them all to exist completely separately?

DeKalb Alternative School (5855 Memorial Dr) serves 4th through 12th grade students who have been expelled from their home schools. Students are prepared to return to the home school after receiving remedial assistance if needed.

Because they are there for discipline issues, there are no teams and clubs, but they have a ropes course and outdoor classroom, a peer mediation program, morning and afternoon tutorials, and other support groups.

DeKalb Alternative Night School (5855 Memorial Dr) is the same thing, but only for high schoolers who can't attend in the daytime.

Same address for both, but different administration.

There is one more - The DeKalb Transition Academy (2670 Old Wesley Chapel). It serves students in grades 6-8 who have been incarcerated or have been deemed truant by the courts. They 6-8 who have been incarcerated as well as those who have been deemed truant by the court system. They stay a short time to catch up academically and then go back into their home schools. Kids come in and go out of this school during the course of the year so the size of the student population fluctuates between 80-90 students each semester. I am not clear about the differences between DeKalb Alternative school and Transition Academy. Are the student bodies different enough to require separate locations? Could they be housed at the same location and still be separate if necessary?

Wadsworth is in a separate school because KMS is. The two High Achiever programs are supposed to be equal, and there was irritation when the high achievers program in south DeKalb was in with Brown's Mill regular students.

Coralwood is a more complex animal in my mind, and I have to think further on that. I do like Kim's idea of having separate pre-k buildings to avoid screwing with FTE counts in elementary schools.

September said...

I like the idea of placing our PreK students in their own special school building. That building could be set up for small children. Playground, cafeteria, etc. would be age appropriate. Placing these children on a separate bus would allow you to have a different start time. I really hate that our youngest children are out on the street waiting for the bus before the sun comes up.

I also like the idea of placing all of the small, special, high school programs and alternative programs in one or two buildings. You could still keep the separate programs in different wings of the building or on different floors. You could even run an evening program out of the same space. The advantage is that you would need fewer administrative and support staff to run the programs.

Anon said...

"What would happen if someone on the BOE or in administration just said "Here's what needs to be done folks - cut the half-way measures we have outlined in our 20 year plan and just figure out the most efficient and fastest way to get to the size of schools we need that contain all the amenities th students and teachers must have to be an exemplary school system."

This was suggested to multiple board members by at least a couple of parents. However, the staff was rushing the process to a point where there wasn't time to think that big.

Ms. Tyson allegedly felt emotions were still so raw after consolidation and redistricting that dreaming big wasn't a good idea politically for the passage of SPLOST.

It is a shame really because this plan makes so little progress that it is nearly futile.

I hope it fails. Then they can go back to the drawing board and present a new plan the next year.

Anonymous said...

Kim Gokce, please run for the Board of Education. We desperately need your leadership, your ability to set priorities and your people skills. It would be so great to get a Board refocused on Education, which should be the focus of each Board meting. This hasn't happened since the Margaret Owens regime when Dekalb was on top and focused on quality education. Jester has divided the Board and communiity even more than before the deseg. case. WE need new Board members who can work for all of DeKalb not just Hawthorne. Austin Elementary needs a new is on a septic tank.

Cerebration said...

Austin is on a septic tank? Are you sure? This was discussed at the last board meeting and someone asked Steve Donahue if there were other schools with septic and he said no - just the one they were discussing (I think it was Stone Mt ES...) It got approved for SPLOST plumbing...

unknown said...

Austin isn't on a septic tank. Jester has not divided the board. Other board members are elected too and I'm sure they know how to think for themselves. Did you note that Kim called Nancy's vote "brave"? It was a brave vote and it was done with a system-wide view. I don't see you suggesting that other board members just care about, MLK, or SWD, or Miller Grove, or Arabia Mountain. Double standard? You are uninformed about what Nancy does. I'm not in her district but she's visited my school and answered my emails. She's effective, speaks properly and because she isn't afraid, you are trying to label her negatively. It won't work.

Anonymous said...

Smoke Rise Elementary is the only school in DeKalb County on a septic tank. This was discussed at last week's Board of Education meeting.

Cerebration said...

Thanks dadfirst - I couldn't remember which school but I do remember the specific question was asked at the last meeting (by McChesney I believe) and the answer was that Smokerise is the only school on a septic tank.

Anonymous said...

So is this a call to vote no on SPLOST? Is there going to be a concerted effort by an organized voters group to not approve the funds? Could a group make demands from the BOE that before offering an endorsement. Because SPLOST can be the only thing on the ballot turnout is low and the game can be won or lost with a relative low number of votes. Too bad we can't simply call for a vote of no confidence to dissolve the current board.

Kim Gokce said...

How about recall vote? I don't know what to think anymore, frankly. As a passionate advocate if public education, I'm shocked that I am even considering opposing SPLOST as a way to get them to change their priorities.

Anonymous said...

Kim, like you I am the child of a long line of public school teachers and a product of a fine public school education (a long time ago in another state). I supported SPLOST funding in the past.

But I think the ONLY way to get this administration's attention is to attack their piggybank which is SPLOST IV. If we can hold it hostage, perhaps we can force some true, meaningful change. Sad and painful, but true.

Cerebration said...

Interestingly, SPLOST may be the only thing on the ballot in most areas, but in Dunwoody, there will be quite a lot on the ballot - bringing out voters in droves. They will be voting on a new mayor, a parks bond, and other important items. I predict that Dunwoody will drive this vote. Are Dunwoody voters for or against SPLOST?